In order to become a behavioral assistant, you must usually have a university-level education in social work, education, or counseling, often with an emphasis on applied behavior analysis. A bachelor’s degree is almost always required. Specialized work at the graduate level is an asset, as well, and usually important to higher-level positions. Outside of education, a big part of becoming a behavioral assistant is about narrowing down your field options, deciding what sort of work you want to do, and seeking out any required certifications. Understanding the rules and regulations at the outset will often make it easier to get a job later on down the line.
Education is usually at the core of what it takes to become a behavioral assistant. Assistants help people make strategies and life choices that take appropriate behavior into account. They coach people with disabilities about how to succeed in society independently. Most importantly, they help clients feel prepared and ready to be contributing members of their communities. While a lot of the work requires compassion and understanding, all of it must be rooted in specific training.
A bachelor’s degree is usually the place to start. Programs in special education and social work are usually the most natural tracks for a student hoping to become a behavioral assistant, though most any coursework with an emphasis on one-on-one clinical counseling will provide a good start. Any courses with hands-on components, particularly field internships, are usually the best. These combine practical education with actual experience.
Experience is also an essential part of finding placement in any number of behavioral assistant careers. There is usually a lot of variety in the market, and different employers necessarily look for different things. Sometimes it is possible to become a behavioral assistant right out of a preliminary degree program, but this is relatively uncommon. Most of the time, at least some experience in the field is required.
Many graduate programs in the behavioral sciences and behavioral education disciplines combine internship-like field experiences with coursework. Programs often pair budding behavioral assistants with clients under the supervision of a more experienced professional. The student thus has a chance to apply the knowledge he or she has gained in the classroom or through research to real-life situations. Should the student hit a bump or stumble into unfamiliar territory, however, the mentor is able to intervene, and turn the session into a learning experience for all involved.
Not all jurisdictions have legally-mandated behavioral assistant requirements, but many do. Certification by a governing body is among the most common mandates. This usually requires proof of education or behavioral assistant training, a certain number of hours of monitored experience or supervised internship, and passage of a test. A criminal background check is often also involved.
The last, but arguably one of the most important, steps to become a behavioral assistant is deciding where you want to work. Some assistants work with children who have defined special needs, particularly learning disabilities, while others work with adults or whole families struggling with behavioral integration. Jobs exist in schools, in private foundations, and within many government health care systems. Different employers have their own hiring processes, but it is usually best to start your search early, so that you can tailor your educational and experience background to the specific duties outlined in your dream job.